african pineapple peanut stew

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I sort of hate when I find great recipes from blogs that come from a cookbook I already own. I guess it makes sense – now it isn’t just words on a page because someone (in this case, a number of people) is actually recommending it. But man, I sure wish that I could be the person to pick out the oddball recipe from the cookbook and spread the word about how great it is! You can tell I’m not one of those people who finds good stuff at thrift shops, can’t you?

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But can you really blame me; I mean, come on, pineapple, peanut butter, onions, and kale? Who would have expected that to come together into something delicious?

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It did though. No one of the flavors dominated; it wasn’t like I took a bite of stew and thought, “mm, pineappley.” Everything was in balance, coming together to create a meal that was earthy and comforting. I was surprised by how tasty it was, and I’m surprised that I’m already thinking that it would be the perfect way to use up the rest of the jar of peanut butter before we move. Who knew I’d ever crave pineapple stew?

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One year ago: Pumpkin Ravioli

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African Pineapple Peanut Stew
(adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)

4 servings

I used natural peanut butter, which worked great. Also, I only had Frank’s hot sauce, which isn’t as spicy as some, and I would have loved a little more heat. I think a pinch of cayenne added with the garlic would be great too.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch kale or Swiss chard, large stems discarded, leaves chopped coarse
1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
½ cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup peanuts, chopped
1 scallion, sliced

1. Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until just browned at the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add pineapple to the pot and bring to a simmer; add the greens, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Stir in the peanut butter and hot sauce and simmer for another 5 minutes, until the flavors are blended. Stir in the cilantro just before serving and add salt if necessary. Serve over rice or couscous, garnishing each serving with the peanuts and scallions.

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wheat berries with caramelized onions, feta, and lentils

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I’m really looking forward to moving to New Mexico. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Philadelphia; any unhappiness I had here was my own deal and not a result of the location. But I am excited about having a fresh start somewhere.

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I am a little concerned about the grocery store situation. I have been majorly spoiled the last few years by always living near a Wegman’s. If you’re not familiar, suffice to say that it’s a great store, with a huge selection and high quality. When a recipe says that an ingredient can be found in “any well-stocked grocery store”, I’ve never had to worry about how I’d get a hold of it.

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The town we’re moving to, though, is small and isolated. It has just one grocery store. My initial explorations during our visit there over the summer indicated that it isn’t terrible but it isn’t great. I should be able to find, say, goat cheese, but only one type.

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So I’ve been trying to take advantage of the wide selection of my current store while I can, by buying random unusual ingredients that I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to find after the move. My plan was actually to buy farro, but I guess even Wegman’s has its limits because they didn’t have it. I almost went with quinoa, since it’s familiar and safe, but I managed to talk myself into trying wheat berries instead.

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Well, I don’t know about farro, but wheat berries are certainly delicious. They’re nutty, and the texture was chewy, not unpleasantly crunchy or mushy. The sweet caramelized onions were a great compliment, and then the salty feta was perfect on top of all of that. The whole thing was just so good, and I couldn’t believe how healthy it was to boot. I sure hope I can find wheat berries and feta after we move because I want to be making this meal a lot!

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One year ago: Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Medallions

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Wheat Berries with Caramelized Onions, Lentils, and Feta (adapted a bit from Orangette; wheat berry cooking method from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

2-3 servings

You might not need a recipe here, because you’re just combining grains and lentils with caramelized onions and feta. If you already have favorite ways to cook grains, lentils, and onions, you should absolutely feel free to use those. In case you don’t, I’ll provide my preferred methods here.

You can probably skip the lentils if you don’t want to deal with an extra ingredient. Also, I haven’t tried it myself, but I don’t see why you couldn’t just add them to the wheat berries at the point when the wheat has 25 minutes of cooking left. Just make sure there’s enough water in the pot.  (Update 6/14/11: You can definitely cook the lentils in the same pot as the wheat berries. I’ve also used farro in this recipe now, which is convenient because it cooks in the same amount of time as lentils.)

I think you could use almost any grain here, as long as you adjust the cooking time. Quinoa would definitely be good (and would make this meal gluten-free).

¾ cup wheat berries
salt
2 onions, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup lentils, preferably lentils de puy, picked over and rinsed
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
hot sauce (optional)
lemon wedges (optional)

1. Soak the wheat berries in water for at least an hour and up to overnight. Put them in a pot with enough water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until they’re tender, 1 to 2 hours. Add ½ teaspoon salt once they’ve started to soften.

2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and ¼ teaspoon salt, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring somewhat frequently, until they just start to brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce to heat to medium-low and continue to cook and stir until the onions are evenly golden brown, about 20 minutes longer.

3. Put the lentils into a small saucepan. Add 3 cups of cold water and ¼ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender but not falling apart, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain.

4. Combine the wheat berries, caramelized onions, lentils, and feta. Adjust the seasonings if necessary and serve with either hot sauce or lemon wedges, if desired.

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not a chinese burrito (moo shu pancakes)

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I haven’t been reading food blogs long – only about a week longer than I’ve had my own, in fact – but I’m already playing favorites. One of the blogs that first caught my attention and held it is Jen’s use real butter. Jen’s blog has what I consider the three requisite aspects of a good food blog: beautiful pictures, entertaining writing, and recipes I actually want to make. Something else I love about Jen’s blog is that some of those recipes are authentic Chinese food. At least, I’m assuming they’re authentic. As an all-American mutt, I’m not exactly an expert on spotting traditional ethnic cuisine.

The latest such recipe is moo shu pork. I’d heard of moo shu before – the term seems to get tossed around a lot just because it sounds cute and is fun to say. Moo shu. Moooooo shu. But I actually had no idea what it was until Jen’s post about it. Turns out, it’s a bunch of stir-fried goodness all wrapped up in flatbread. Sounds delicious!

The recipe is fairly simple, but it did involve some ingredients that weren’t familiar to me. The first is hoisin sauce. Jen says that she prefers to buy hoisin sauce with more Chinese on the label that English. That sounds reasonable. My grocery store has a well-stocked ethnic section, so I was pretty confident that I’d be able to find something that fit the bill. I ended up with a bottle with about 50% English, 50% Chinese on the label. Close enough.

The moo shu shells were a bigger problem. Even Wegman’s ethnic section can only go so far. I had a bit of hope when I saw an “asian” sign in the freezer section, but there was no luck to be had there. I had two options at this point: find an asian grocery store or make my own moo shu shells. I just moved to Philadelphia a week ago and didn’t relish the idea of driving around looking for an asian grocery store, so homemade it was.

Okay, let’s be honest. I could have found an asian grocery store – I know how to use the internet, after all. The truth is, I’m just not very comfortable in them. The merchandise is unfamiliar to me, I don’t know how anything is arranged, and most of the labels are in Chinese. Last time I went to one, I wandered up and down the aisles looking for dried shrimp. When I gave up and asked the cashier for help, she yelled, “in the cooler!” The cooler encompassed an entire aisle of this store. I wandered over there and searched around, all the while with her yelling from the cash register which direction I needed to be looking. Why she didn’t just walk the 10 steps over to the cooler and grab the damn shrimp off the shelf for me is a mystery. Then, as I was checking out, she asked if I was making pad thai. Apparently little white girls have one use for dried shrimp and one use only. I said I was, and she told me I needed Thai basil. I know Thai basil is a traditional pad thai ingredient, but I’m assuming that it has the same shelf life of regular basil – so about 3 hours. My pad thai had always been damn good without it, so I declined, admitting that my pad thai must not be that authentic. So there you go – my desire to make traditional ethnic food lies somewhere between dried shrimp and Thai basil.

So, homemade moo shu shells it was. Turns out making moo shu shells is even easier than finding a recipe for them on the internet. (Hint: Don’t google “moo shu shells”, regardless of how you spell the “moo.” You need to look up “mandarin pancakes.”) The process is a little strange, but it worked out beautifully in the end. Flour is mixed with boiling water, then the dough is allowed to rest. It’s rolled into a rope, then cut into pieces. Each piece is flattened, brushed with oil, and then stacked on another piece with the oiled sides together. Each pair of dough segments is rolled out together, then cooked in an ungreased skillet. The only tricky part is tearing the two pieces apart after they cook, and the only difficulty there stems from the fact that it’s hot!

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So, in the end, moo shu pork is good. Really good, in fact. I can’t wait to make it again. And hoisin sauce? Also really good. All salty and sweet and just altogether tasty.

Now, Jen insists that these shouldn’t be called Chinese burritos. I can understand this I suppose – after all, I’ve never heard of a burrito referred to as Mexican moo shu. But I’m sure you can see the resemblance. In fact, when I handed Dave his plate, guess what he said? “Oh, cool. It’s a Chinese burrito.”

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Mandarin Pancakes (from Fine Cooking)

The only change I’ll probably make in the future is to add a pinch of salt to the dough.

Makes 12

1¾ cups (8 ounces) unbleached flour
¾ cup boiling water
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

In a bowl, mix the flour and the boiling water with chopsticks or a wooden spoon to combine. Turn the shaggy dough onto a lightly floured board, gather it into a heap, and knead it until smooth, about 3 minutes. Cover with a towel and let it rest for about 1/2 hour.

With your hands, shape the dough into an even cylinder about 12 inches long. With a sharp knife, preferably serrated, cut the roll into 1-inch pieces. If the cutting squashes any of the pieces, stand them on end and shape them back into rounds.

Lightly flour your palms and use them to flatten the pieces into 2-inch rounds. Brush the top of each round generously with sesame oil. Lay one round on top of another, oiled sides together. Flatten the pair together with the heel of your hand. Continue until you have 6 pairs.

With a floured rolling pin, roll each pair into a thin pancake about 7 inches in diameter, flipping the pancake over now and again to roll evenly on both sides. Stack the pancakes as you finish rolling them.

In an ungreased cast-iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium-high heat, cook the pancakes one at a time. Heat one side until it becomes less opaque and starts to bubble slightly, and just a few brown spots appear, about 1 min. Flip it over and cook it until a few light brown spots appear on the other side, about 30 seconds.

While the pancake is still hot, pick it up, look for a seam to grab, and separate it into two very thin pancakes. Stack them on a plate as you go and wrap them in foil to keep them warm and prevent drying. If not using right away, refrigerate until ready to use.

For Jen’s mu-shu pork filling, check out her blog.

to clear our sinuses (crockpot rice and beans)

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Well, we can’t eat sandwiches every night! We also had rice two nights in a row. Not a great week for variety.

I realized recently that I only have one crockpot meal that I make regularly. That needs to change! My sister is a crockpot fiend, so I need to ask her for some good ones.

This recipe came from my brother. The first time I had it was when I visited him in Oklahoma. We drove there from Indiana, and our car broke down in Missouri, so…we ate at like 10pm or something. Incidently, while we were waiting around for the car to be fixed in Missouri, we wandered into a bar, where we met up with an older couple who had just gotten married. Cute!

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Back to food. I’ve made a few changes to the recipe. It originally called for boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but I decided they weren’t really necessary. There’s plenty of protein from the beans and rice, right? Sometimes I do add bone-in, skinless chicken thighs and then shred the meat right before serving. There’s something about shredded chicken that I just like. Also, it’s supposed to be served over spanish rice, but white rice is easier and there’s plenty of flavor in the beans. Oh, and I changed the beans from pinto to kidney. My friend from Puerto Rico makes rice and beans with kidney beans, so maybe they’re more authentic? I don’t know, I bought them on accident once and liked them better.

And! I had to use actual canned green chiles! My New Mexican green chile supply ran out, and no one resupplied me this year!

Spicy Crockpot Beans
Serves 3

2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 (4-ounce) cans green chile, diced
2 chipotle chiles from adobo sauce, minced
1 (0.85 ounce) package chicken gravy mix (I use Simply Organic)
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tomatoes, chopped, or ½ (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked white rice

Add first five ingredients to crockpot and cook on low for 3-5 hours. Stir in tomatoes 30 minutes before serving. Serve over white rice. (If you use chicken pieces as well, add them skin side down on the bottom of the pot and cook for 6-8 hours.)

Sandwich week! (tomato soup and grilled cheese)

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Usually I’m pretty careful about planning our weekly dinners with a fair amount of diversity. This week, however, it worked out that we’re having sandwiches three nights. Yay! I love sandwiches!

Sandwich week starts out with a classic, and one of my absolute favorite, meals–tomato soup and grilled cheese. When I was a kid, I loved Campbell’s and Kraft singles. These days, I get just a bit fancier.

The soup is homemade from a Cooks Illustrated recipe. I make the recipe with just a few changes–I leave out the cream at the end because while it certainly doesn’t make the soup worse, it doesn’t make it better either, so I figure I might as well save myself the unhealthiness. I reduce the butter by one tablespoon for the same reason.

The sandwiches are simplicity itself–just slice a roll in half, pile on whatever cheese you like, and roast at 400 degrees until the cheese melts (something like 10 minutes).

I make this meal probably once a month. It’s definitely comfort food for me and Dave. One final touch–we always add just a few cooked macaroni noodles to the soup. I’ve done this since I was a kid, and now tomato soup just seems like it’s missing something when they’re not there.

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(Photo updated 3/28/08 )

Cream of Tomato Soup (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 6

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, juice reserved
1½ tablespoons brown sugar, preferably dark
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Pinch ground allspice
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons brandy

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place a strainer in a bowl and remove the seeds and juice of each tomato over the strainer. Place tomatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet. Rub with the brown sugar. Bake until the tomatoes are dry and just starting to brown, about 30 minutes. Let the tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off the foil.

2. While the tomatoes roast, heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Add the shallots, tomato paste, and allspice. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the flour, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Stirring constantly, gradually add the chicken broth; stir in the reserved tomato juice and the roasted tomatoes. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, reduce to heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes to blend the flavors.

3. Strain the mixture into a medium bowl. Transfer the tomatoes and solids in the strainer to a blender; add enough liquid for the blender to work, then puree until desired consistency. Stir the pureed mixture and remaining strained liquid together. Stir in the brandy and serve.